Louisville Takes Down Irish

LOUISVILLE, Kent. — It's back to the drawing board for the Irish. After a huge win against Syracuse Sunday, No. 17/17 Notre Dame came into Freedom Hall Thursday looking to gain ground in the Big East against No. 18/13 Louisville. The results: a 90-85 loss to the Cardinals has the Irish reeling as they head into the final stretch of the schedule.

Early on in the contest, Notre Dame looked uncomfortable and rattled, while Louisville was feeding off the energy of its sell-out crowd. One of the premier big men in the nation, David Padgett started off the Cardinal scoring and was a key factor in the offensive attack moving the ball when the Irish pressured him. At one point, the senior center was calling for the ball at the foul line, and once he received it, found a Terrence Williams cutting along the baseline for an open dunk. The next time down the court, Edgar Sosa hit a wide open three pushing the score to 22-8 in favor of Louisville.

Part of the reason for the Cardinal's impressive first half was Notre Dame's lackadaisical perimeter defense that allowed a great deal of uncontested looks. In the half, the Cardinals went 8-of-11 from long distance, helping create the separation between both squads.

When combined with the Louisville press, Notre Dame was confused and frustrated into several early turnovers that inhibited its offensive rhythm. Although the Irish struggled early on, Luke Harangody was determined not to let the Cardinals run away with it. With over seven and a half minutes left, the sophomore forward had scored 14 of the 18 Irish points. The Big East's leading scorer pulled out all the stops on his repertoire, not only aggressively attacking the hoop, but also sinking his mid-range jumper.

After Padgett sat on the bench for a quick breather, Notre Dame looked slightly more comfortable within its game flow, but still wasn't able to close the gap considerably. One part of the contest that went in favor for the Irish was Louisville's offensive cold streak. In the minutes since he had been substituted, the Cardinals only converted on one field goal. Louisville coach Rick Pitino realized his squad losing its rhythm and placed him back into the contest. The center, guarding Rob Kurz, blocked one of his shots, and on the other end, took the Irish senior to the basket to convert on a baby hook. After Notre Dane set up its offensive attack, Zach Hillesland was fed the ball and he sunk a 10-foot jump shot, putting the score at 39-24.

Whereas Notre Dame relied on Harangody for its points, the Cardinals focused on sharing the ball. At the half, both Padgett and Williams had eight points to lead the Cardinals. No Louisville player was in double figures at half time despite its high scoring tempo at intermission.

In the last Irish possession of the half, Harangody was calling for the rock in the post. Once Kyle McAlarney fed it to him, he quickly felt the Cardinal pressure and dished the ball out to Ryan Ayers who drained a three — the first in the half for the Irish. That marked the last field goal of the half, and the Irish went into the locker room down 42-27.

At intermission, Notre Dame was shooting 37% from the field, and only 1-of-7 from three-point range. Although the Cardinals showed their offensive potential at times in the half, they also did turn the ball over often. However, Notre Dame wasn't able to take advantage of the Louisville miscues, letting Louisville build its lead. When the Irish were faced with the press, Tory Jackson seemed to look uncomfortable at times and struggle with the pressure in the backcourt. The sophomore never found his comfort in the game, finishing with only three points and three assists.

Irish coach Mike Brey must have said something that inspired his squad, because as soon as they began the second half, the looks on the players' faces were far more relaxed and focused than in the first frame. However, Louisville didn't back down either. The Cardinals based their offense through Padgett, having him work from the low and high posts for either a shot with his back to the basket, or an eight-foot jumper. At the half, Brey switched Harangody to guard the Cardinal center. Despite the increased physicality of the sophomore forward, Padgett continued to shine and score in the paint.

Notre Dame did increase its offensive aggressiveness, looking to drive and dish the extra pass to an open man. One series down the floor, Jackson penetrated, and once the defense collapsed, he adeptly found Harangody with a no-look pass around a defender for a lay in. After a Padgett miss, the Irish came right down the floor and Kurz converted on a pretty reverse lay up putting the score at 49-38 with over 15 left in the game.

Notre Dame started to hit its stride and covert open looks, starting its three-point rhythm. However, every time the Irish seemed to start a run, Louisville came right back with a pair of baskets, keeping their distance.

Both squads continued to exchange baskets as the Cardinal lead hovered around double digits. As the clock began to become a factor in the game, Notre Dame began to lead a late charge. In the final 5:41 of the contest, Louisville led by as much as 19, but the Irish were able to close the gap.

Ryan Ayers was clutch down the stretch finding his stroke from three-point range on the way to picking up 17 points. However, it was Harangody who notched his 17th double-double of the season in the career night. Finishing with 40 points, the candidate for Big East Player of the Year hit three consecutive three-pointers — the first of his career to bring the Irish within five points. On the final three he made, the Irish looked poised to complete an unbelievable comeback at 86-81, but the Cardinals sunk their free throws and cashed in on several easy dunks that sealed the victory.

Notre Dame now stands in a tie for third with Connecticut in the conference, while Louisville moves up to a first place tie with Georgetown. The Irish will travel to Chicago to face the DePaul Blue Demons Sunday in a contest that is a rematch of an 89-80 Notre Dame victory earlier in February.

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